When it's raining as you arrive at a ballgame, and the bus has the lights on and is full of players, it's not a good sign baseball will be played. Since that was the case Monday, my friend Jen and I returned to Beloit's Pohlman Field for what was both a doubleheader and the entire series. Since you've probably already read Josh's review of the game, I'll regale you with stories of what wasn't in the boxscores.
When we arrived, the second inning of Game 1 of the doubleheader was just beginning. The Snappers (Oakland Athletics Low-A affiliate) already had a three-run lead. I didn't get to see the three errors the Kane County Cougars (Cubs Low-A affiliate) made in the first inning, and it sounds like a good thing. Marco Hernandez, Oliver Zapata, and Dan Vogelbach had combined to make three errors in the first three hitters, My radar gun seemed to be better at judging speeds at vehicles on the street than pitched baseballs, so it was of little use today. But, by the second inning, my scorecard was ready.
Since we were seated just in front of the Oakland scouts (be they actual scouts or pitchers, I wasn't sure), I was hearing the velocity numbers for the Beloit hurlers. I wasn't hearing anything mid-nineties all day long. I wasn't seeing too much more from the Cougars' arms either, as far as velocity. Jose Arias was probably around 89-91 for velocity. I would like to say I was expecting more, but after hearing in his first outing that he was tipping off his off-speed stuff (as per radio announcer Wayne Randazzo), I was happy he was getting people out.
Beloit was running on Arias at will. It wasn't so much Arias' fault, though. The two Snappers steals were aided in no slight measure by Wilson Contreras' throws. Both of them tailed severely to the first-base side of second base, one of which was on a pitchout. I didn't have replay, so I couldn't tell if a good throw records an out or not, but with those throws, pretty much anyone slides safely into second. Especially when the back-up infielder catches the ball. Conversely, the one early steal attempt by Kane County ended on a perfect throw by Snappers catcher Nick Rickles. Trey Martin had a decent jump, but slid into the tag at second.
Through the first game's first five innings, the 3-0 score held, with only two memorably humorous moments. On an infield pop, Jeimer Candelario properly took control of one ten feet from the plate in foul territory. He called "I got it. I got it. I got it." As the ball was coming down, a player on the Beloit bench hollered, "I got it." Candelario sent the entire team a death stare after recording the out. A bit later, on a check swing, Candelario watched a nubber down the third base line hug the chalk. Candelario dropped to his knees to apparently give it the Lenny Randle treatment, trying to blow it foul. That was Beloit's last hit of the game.
Coming into the sixth inning, Kane County's offense had been generally silent. Second sacker Gioskar Amaya had singled twice, and other hard hit balls tended to be one-hoppers to infielders. Amaya started the sixth inning off with a walk. Dan Vogelbach ripped one between first and second for a single, with Amaya stopping at second. Then Candelario pounded one to deep right-center for a double with Amaya scoring, and Vogelbach being held at third. Rock Shoulders laced the third successive pounded ball right at the second baseman. Candelario was somewhat fortunate to get back without being doubled off. Marco Hernandez hammered a double to the same spot Shoulders did, and Candelario failed to score from second. Here's why. Candelario had a nice jump off of second, but as he approached third, Vogelbach was (properly) tagging. Instead of remaining near third, where he should have stayed, Candelario went back toward second. When the ball caromed to the outfielder, and the throw was true, Candelario was unable to score from second on a 375-foot double to right-center. A liner to third, and a deep fly to right made it look like Candelario's baserunning might cost Kane County the game.
Meanwhile, Jeff Antigua entered for Arias in the fifth. His off-speed stuff was keeping Beloit's lefty-dominated lineup off balance. This is Antigua's fifth year in the Midwest League. Nonetheless, nobody was doing much with him today. He retired seven of his last eight hitters, and it appeared that if the Cougars could take a lead in the seventh, Antigua might close it out in the bottom half.
Martin led the seventh inning off with a hit by pitch. This led to the key at bat in the game. Do you bunt, or do you swing away with lead-off man Zapata? Remember, the catcher made a textbook throw to gun down Martin earlier. (It really helped being there live to see this play out, as the closeness displayed the strategy.) Getting Martin to second for the heavy lumber upcoming was paramount, and the pitcher lobbed to first to see if Zapata was representing bunt. He wasn't. On the first pitch, Zapata squared early, and drew back on an outside pitch. One ball, no strikes. What say you?
The third baseman drew close, and the second baseman strayed from second to be ready to cover first. The SS covered a bit of the hole toward third, and Martin darted on the pitch. The throw was good, but the representing of a bunt left nobody able to properly cover second. Martin was safe. The next pitch was bunted toward, but short of, the third baseman. The pitcher played the ball, as the third baseman wasn't sure if he should play the ball or not. It probably didn't matter, as Zapata legged it out, with the runner moving up. With the bunt represented and executed perfectly in a succession of three pitches, the Cougars had runners on first and third with nobody out.
On a semi-hit-and-run Amaya hit a hump-backed liner to shallow right. Neither runner advanced. With the pitch-charters behind me saying, "Walk him," Vogelbach, batted. The pitcher was in the stretch, and the hitter apparently requested time. The umpire didn't verbally grant it, but after the pitcher dropped the ball on the rubber (for which should have been a game-tying balk), the umpire retroactively called time. The Cougars bench chirped some, but on the next pitch, Vogelalbach became one of about six hitters to almost take out a pitcher's knee, tying the game anyway. The screamer made it to center field, and Zapata moved to third. Candelario pounded a sac fly to center for the eventual game-winner, and Shoulders was unsuccessful in drilling one past the first baseman. In the last two innings, almost all the Cougars contact was solid. Antigua's 1-2-3 ninth closed out the 4-3 win.
One other play of note involved a Beloit runner on first taking off for second. Amaya was covering the bag, and he ranged three steps to the right of second to make the play. I'm not sure about Amaya's defense overall, but he can certainly make the above average play.
In the doubleheader's second game, Marco Hernandez (who still plays defense standing on the grass, and as often as not starts he travel toward the ball with a lateral or even backward step) doubled to left with two outs in the second. He swiped third, and the catcher threw the ball into left. While the catcher earned the error, the third baseman seemed more intent on completing the tag play, even though he hadn't caught the ball.
Into the bottom of the second inning, thus, the Cougars were looking at a sweep. However, one of the reasons minor league games can drag on forever is due to the umpire's strike zones. Michael Heesch was Kane County's starter in the nightcap. He is a lefty with an apparently nice repertoire of off-speed stuff. However, when the strike zone (for both sides, I feel compelled to add) is the size of the insert you put inside of a 45 RPM single for it to play on a 33 RPM turntable (yeah, I'm that old), games can drag on a bit. Heesch only walked one, but his first two curves in the second inning were called balls. They weren't, but at 2-0 (instead of 0-2), he had to challenge the hitter. The ensuing double was the first of three in the inning, and Renato Nunez would have two in the inning. Hernandez misplayed a ball at short, and Beloit tallied seven in the second.
A few times, the Cougars were that one hit away from making it close again, but the key hit never happened. Since the Snappers scored seven or more and won, we had Culvers custard on the way home for free.
It would have been fun to see Pierce Johnson, Tayler Scott, or some of the guys rehabbing in Mesa, but in the final analysis, having sixth-row seats behind the plate for under 10 bucks can't be beat. Consider taking in a minor league game this season, whether or not it's in the Cubs pipeline. The twinbill we saw had an announced attendance of under 400 fans. Yeah, it was a bit cold, but the hot chocolate was wonderful. And I was able to see Dan Vogelbach almost take out two pitchers' knees with liners back up the box.
The regular Cubs System Sonogram weekly will appear later this week.